The change of government didn’t stop the steep decline of press freedom in Canada according to Reporters Without Borders. Canada now ranks 22nd in the RWB index, four spots below last year. The international press freedom watchdog urges Trudeau to act on his vocal defense of free media.

Every year, Reporters Without Borders publishes a report on the state of press freedom in 180 countries. They base their rankings on questionnaires submitted to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists in each country, and on the number of acts of violence and abuse towards medias and journalists.

In 2015, Canada was eighth on the list. One year later, thanks to the ever-increasing hostility of the Conservative government toward the media, it had plunged to the 18th spot.

Many expected Trudeau to change this bleak course when he took office, considering how he advocated for a strong and free press during the campaign. While the government’s relations with media may appear more cordial, the Prime Minister has so far failed to live up to that expectation. Canada has slipped down four more spots, now ranking right between Samoa and the Czech Republic.

The top of the index is once again filled by Scandinavian countries, with Norway in the lead. Costa Rica follows in 6th place. At the other end of the scale, North Korea surpassed Eritrea as the very worst place in terms of press freedom. Turkmenistan and Syria are close behind.

RWB says Canada’s poor score this year is partly due to the fact that a number of journalists have been put under police surveillance in Quebec, including La Presse’s Patrick Lagacé. The organization also cited a court ordering Vice journalist Ben Makuch to hand over all communications between himself and an RCMP source as it highlights Canada’s lack of specific legal framework for journalism.

RWB also highlighted the charges brought against The Independant’s journalist Justin Brake for trespassing while he was covering the protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador. Plus the NGO expressed disappointment at the PM’s failure to repeal C-51, which is widely considered as a huge setback for press freedom and individual rights. RWB already tried to bring all these concerns to Trudeau’s attention in an open letter written in November.

Canada is not the only country with a less than stellar performance. The US went dropped from 41st to 43rd, a relatively small slip, considering Donald Trump severely restricted media access to all kinds of information and his outright calling the press “an enemy of the american people.” It might suggest that the Obama administration’s difficult relationship with the press and war on whistleblowers might have had more far-reaching effects than it seems.

In fact, RWB maintains that press freedom is in more danger than ever, all across the world.

“We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies,” The report declared in its cheerful introduction. It attributes the worsening state of affair to a conjuncture characterized by the rise of strongmen and the erosion of democracies in Europe and America alike. As for Canada, RWB recommends that the government repeals C-51 and put forward concrete measures to ensure confidentiality of journalistic sources.

* Featured image from Reporters Without Borders official site

Until the recent election of the Orange racist misogynist, the public seems to have had mixed feelings about the press. On the one hand, people use it as a means of achieving justice via social pressure and shaming when our legal system fails them. On the other hand you have people unreasonably targeted in the court of public opinion thanks to the press and social media, ruining their lives before the courts can decide their innocence, liability, or guilt. On top of that, news websites are covered with politically or corporate sponsored pieces masquerading as real news that claim to be offering sound advice and information when they’re really just pushing products or agendas no one needs.

It is in this new age of juggling fake vs. real news that we as a society need to take a serious look at what real journalism is, and the laws and ethics of those who practice it.

The simplified definition of journalism is the occupation of a diverse bunch of people who write, edit, and distribute electronic, print, and audio visual material on subjects of public interest. People think of journalists as strictly doing the news, but most news websites have everything from the news, to animal sob stories, to entertainment stuff, to insight on fashion and tech trends to ranty editorial pieces.

That said, though the press is universally recognized as playing an important role in any healthy democracy, there is little in Canadian law explicitly protecting its members. Journalists are widely considered to be the watchdogs of our democracy, calling bullshit and demanding justice before everyone else, but there’s no special law guaranteeing their rights.

Most of the rights of journalists come from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Quebec, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Civil Code, and in the rest of Canada, case law.

In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have article 2(b) which guarantees freedom thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press for everyone.

In the Quebec Charter, we have sections 3 and 9. Section 3 is a lot like 2(b) of the Canadian Charter in that it protects freedom of opinion and expression. Section 9 protects our right to the non-disclosure of our confidential information.

Last but not least in Quebec, we have civil law, written into our Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure. The rule is that any evidence found to be obtained under circumstances that violate someone’s fundamental rights and freedoms can, to a certain discretionary degree, be rejected by the courts.

Journalists’ fight to protect their sources is one of the more frequent issues that come up before the courts, forcing our justice system to define the rights of the press outside of any definitive legislation.

In 2010 in Globe and Mail v. Canada (Attorney General), the Supreme Court was asked to come up with a way of deciding under what circumstances a journalist should be made to reveal their source.

Anonymous sources are extremely important for societal watchdogs as it allows them to get information from people in circumstances where their job, their reputation, or their lives would be jeopardized by publicly sharing the information themselves. On the other hand, you have the right of the authorities to know where important information is coming from in order to successfully resolve a criminal investigation, and the right of lawyers to have access to information and people in order to successfully defend their clients against criminal charges or lawsuits.

The Supreme Court in Globe and Mail used the Quebec Civil Code and the Canadian and Quebec Charters to come up with the following test as to whether a journalist should be made to reveal their source:

First, one must ask if the evidence resulting from making a journalist answer questions that could reveal their sources would be relevant to the case. If the answer is yes, the courts must consider the following four factors about the anonymous source:

  1. The relationship must originate in a confidence that the source’s identity will not be disclosed
  2. Anonymity must be essential to the relationship in which the communication arises
  3. The relationship must be one that should be sedulously fostered in the public interest
  4. The public interest served by protecting the identity of the informant must outweigh the public interest in getting at the truth

In addition to those rules and tests, you have the criminal code and the rules regarding civil liability.

Hate propaganda, public incitement of hatred, and promoting genocide are all criminal offenses in Canada.

If someone causes you damages such as those that could cost you your wealth or livelihood, damages that negatively affected your health, or damages that caused you psychological problems, you are allowed to seek reparations for those damages. People in Canada have successfully sued journalists and media companies for damages because their actions ruined their reputations and/or violated their right to privacy.

Outside the law, the press tends to regulate itself. Lobby groups like the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec put out codes of ethics for the profession that set out the rules they all should follow. This includes no plagiarizing, making sure to put out accurate information, and making clear distinctions between their personal opinions and the facts they present.

In an age where politicians feel free to accuse the press of undermining democracy, media literacy is more important than ever. We have a responsibility to keep our eyes open for the thinly veiled sponsored pieces and the ranty conjecture masquerading as fact.

Journalists who expose this to us are more important than ever and we need more rules to protect them. Politicians may not like reporters, but without them there’d be no democracy, and no one would know who they are. As Oscar Wilde once said:

“The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”

Let’s keep the press free, so they can keep talking.

* Featured image by Pete O’Shea via Flickr Creative Commons

On Tuesday, gunmen burst into the FM 103.5 studio in San Pedro de Marcos during a live news broadcast. They shot and killed the station’s director Leonidas Martinez in his office before doing the same to journalist Luis Manuel Medina, just as he was reading the news on air. The station’s secretary, Dayana Garcia, was also injured. Mr Medina was hosting Milenio Caliente (Hot Millenium), an investigative news show.

Part of the event was livestreamed through Facebook. The video shows Luis Medina attempting to continue his program as shots can be heard in the background. Then a female voice warns “shots, shots!” before the transmission cuts off.

Three men have been arrested in relation to the attack, but no charges have been filed yet, according to Al-Jazeera and the Independant. The motive behind the attack is still unknown.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Dominican Republican as 62nd out of 179 in their 2016 World Press Freedom Index. According to RWB “Journalists who dare to tackle corruption or drug trafficking are often the victims of physical violence or even murder.”

Two years ago, Blas Olivo, the press director of the Junta Agroempresarial Dominicana, a politically active association of agribusinesses, was murdered. The crime was linked to the Latin Kings gang, though some suspected foul-play from the authorities.

Mohamed Fahmy was sure that he would be found not guilty that he had composed a tweet sent out after his acquittal that read: “Thank you Canada. I will be arriving soon for some love. No terrorism plans, I promise :)”

Instead, in a ruling that shocked many, Fahmy and his two Al Jazeera colleagues (Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed) were found guilty – Mohamed of aiding the ‘terrorist’ Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to seven to ten years in prison. Other Al Jazeera journalists, Sue Turton and Dominic Kane, tried in abstentia, were also convicted and sentenced ten years.

Fahmy holds dual Canadian and Egyptian citizenship, and many have questioned the type of response given by the Canadian government to this case. For example, while Fahmy’s family did recognize the fact that Foreign Affairs Minister Baird and Minister of State Yelich had met with them, Fahmy’s brother told interviewers “there should have been a higher-up pressure. There should have been more urgent pressure.”

Indeed, Prime Minister Harper did not address the matter until Wednesday, three days after the verdict, and months after the arrest. Even then, the Conservative government used careful words expressing disappointment over the verdict with the Prime Minister, citing “deep concerns.”

Other prominent figures such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott have been much more vocal in criticizing the verdict, and calling for clemency. Abbott even made a personal phone call to Egyptian President to appeal on Greste’s behalf.

There are those who argue that Fahmy’s dual citizenship complicates the ability of Canada to employ its diplomatic leverage beyond press releases and offering consular assistance. Others still state that there is little the Prime Minister, a lone individual, can do to press for Fahmy’s release, and instead call for the power of mobilization resting with grassroots movements.

While both may be true, it cannot be denied that political backing from high level figures is helpful. In this case, it would serve to boost existing social movements such as #FreeAJStaff. Similarly, while navigating cases of dual citizens is difficult – especially those who have been arrested in the country of their other citizenship – it does not mean that it is to be abandoned.

There are many speculations as to why the Harper government has held a stand-off approach regarding this trial. The optimists say that there might be closed-door negotiations that are occurring regarding negotiations of the prisoners. Indeed, Foreign Minister Baird defended his party’s reaction to the verdict stating that they preferred internal discussions over “bullhorn diplomacy.”

However there is skepticism as to what diplomatic leverage Canada may be able to exert in such discussions with Egypt. Pessimists also worry that the Harper government, in its prioritization of security and secularism in the region, may be to prop up a regime that isn’t composed of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At minimum, the Conservative government’s reaction to Fahmy’s verdict can be slotted into a larger trajectory of mixed messages in human rights advocacy, where it has often been criticized for being unable to match rhetoric and action.

If you’re interested in dim sum and live in Montréal, you appreciate the legend of Kam Fung. Maybe you’ve eaten in the cavernous St-Urbain dining room (or its Brossard counterpart). Maybe you’ve just stood in line and longed for a table.

Either experience is sufficient to grasp just how absurd—and yet fitting—it is, that now dim sum has been dragged into 2014 Québec election politics. Yes, those doughy pillows of shrimp, eel, mushroom, beef, pork (or mostly anything else that grows, swims or walks…) are the latest casualty to the province’s rapidly-degenerating discourse on language and identity.

Thankfully, it’s all been dressed with a healthy does of ethnic-food sarcasm.

It all started yesterday when outspoken Journal de Montréal columnist Sophie Durocher took to Twitter after a dim sum lunch.

The initial response seemed unsurprising, coming from one of Durocher’s followers…


But Montréal Gazette food critic Lesley Chesterman’s appraisal was a bit more scathing.


Chesterman’s tweets, it would appear, triggered a string of jabs at Durocher and, at times, the Parti québecois itself.


Disapproval of Durocher’s complaint was not limited to English, either:

Then the whole thing started to echo the last few party debates themselves:



Just like a TVA debate, there was mild mudslinging:

And even humour:

It seems that Charte-fuelled tensions of language and identity have officially peaked. Whether it’s Couillard or Marois who ends up at the helm, we can only hope for strong leadership.

But maybe politicians are just exacerbating the issues and the solution to Durocher’s quandary is really quite simple:

This post originally appeared on, republished with permission of the author

Al Jazeera is coming to America. At the beginning of 2013, the publicly funded Qatar-based broadcaster acquired Current TV, a progressive television station co-founded by ex-vice president Al Gore. The $500 million price tag appeared a little steep for a waning news channel, but it was the only way for Al Jazeera to get direct access to the American cable market.

Unlike Al Jazeera’s Arab and English networks, Al Jazeera America will cater solely to an American audience and will be in straight competition with other cable news channels such as MSNBC, CNN & Fox News.

The transition from Current TV to Al Jazeera America is still at least six months away. While there are many questions to be answered, one wonders if Al Jazeera will bring back quality, in depth, fact based investigative journalism Americans have been deprived of for the last thirty years.

Together, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abolishment of the fairness doctrine in the 1980′s and Bill Clinton’s Telecommunications Act of 1996 has had a devastating impact on mainstream journalism.

fnc-msnbc-cnn-fox-47306474551The media shrank from more than fifty national media outlets in the 1980′s to the six that remain today. Corporate boardrooms now control which stories get aired in an effort to appease sponsors. Prime time news coverage on CBS, ABC and NBC stick to unbiased positions rather than reporting on the facts. Worst of all, the news isn’t about providing important information to the people anymore; it’s about profiting off of them.

As a result of all this, we have been fed an endless dose of mindless infotainment for decades and have forgotten what real journalism is. Take for example Investigative journalism; it used to be the corner stone of every newsroom.

Journalists used to use a combination of research and undercover work to expose government and corporate corruption, two areas the police and FBI ignore. Now, Investigative journalism has all but disappeared. Corporate newsrooms aren’t willing to shell out money for their journalists to investigate what could be their own sponsors. We are now down to just a few worthy websites like Motherjones who continue the investigative practice.

Getting back to Al Jazeera America, it remains to be seen what their intentions are. Will they follow in their parent networks footsteps and bring some well needed intelligent news coverage or will they dumb themselves down and bring an Americanized version of their coverage? Right now all things are pointing to the former.

Al Jazeera is a publicly funded company; it does not have to answer to sponsors as it is a non-profit business. Al Jazeera has no real budget ceiling; funds for investigative journalists are virtually limitless if the story is important enough. The point I’m trying to make here is the importance of a publicly funded, yet independent media company.

The Young TurksCurrently the United States Government allocates $1.50 per US citizen a year to public broadcasting (PBS). Compare this to the $34.00 Canadians pay for the CBC and for the BBC, the British pay even more. These public broadcasters keep the other national networks from falling too far out of line and are central to the information the citizens of these countries receive. In the absence of government broadcasting funds in the United States, Al Jazeera is the next best thing.

The question is will anybody watch it if the network is indeed what we hope it will be? People of any political ideology who regularly watch CNN will be drawn to Al Jazeera’s in depth coverage of national and international news. Those of us who watch MSNBC will finally have an alternative when all their prison shows come on. As for Fox News, their viewers already label Al Jazeera as the mouthpiece for terrorists and socialists; the only thing that will change the views of Fox News viewers, is Fox News.

Al Jazeera America will have an audience, whether that audience will be big enough to compete with the big three is irrelevant to me so long as the network is successful in changing the way news is presented across the airwaves of the United States… And they have to keep Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks on the air; they are too good to not have a voice on national television.